National anthem not a must in cinema halls: Supreme Court
National anthem not a must in cinema halls: Supreme Court

New Delhi: Recalling a 2016 order, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said playing the national anthem in cinema halls was not mandatory. The Union government had asked the apex court to make the move optional till the panel decides a course on the move. 

A final call can be taken on the issue once the panel comes up with its guidelines on this, the government said.  A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said a 12-member inter-ministerial committee, set up by the Centre, would take a final call on the playing of national anthem in the cinemas.

The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said the committee should comprehensively look into all the aspects relating to the playing of national anthem and allowed the petitioners to make representations before the panel.     

The bench, while disposing of the petitions pending before it, made it clear that the exemption granted earlier to disabled persons from standing in the cinema halls when the national anthem is being played, shall will remain in force till the committee takes a decision.     

In October 2016, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the government on a plea for directions to make playing of the national anthem mandatory in all cinema halls. 

On 30 November 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that the national anthem must be played in public theaters across the country before a movie, without any dramatisation. It also ordered that the national flag be shown on screen when the anthem is being played. 

It was hearing a PIL filed by a retired engineer from Bhopal, Shyam Narayan Chouksey, who sought norms regarding the playing of the national anthem in public places, including cinema halls, entertainment programmes and during official functions.

The subsequent ruling invited sharp criticism, with many asking if patriotism could be forced upon citizens. Since the order, several movie goers who either refused to or could not stand up for the national anthem before the movie had to face violence. 

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said India was a diverse country and the national anthem needed to be played in the cinema halls to foster a sense of unity. Opposing a recall of the 30 November 2016 order, Venugopal said it should be left open to the government to take a call on whether the anthem should be played in theatres and whether people should stand up for it.